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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 February, 2003, 19:24 GMT
Vaclav Klaus: Prague's outspoken populist
Vaclav Klaus
Klaus has never shrunk from confrontation
The former conservative Prime Minister, Vaclav Klaus, has succeeded his bitter rival Vaclav Havel as president.

Vaclav Klaus' main duty over the next year or so will be to lead his country into the European Union next year.

It is an uneasy combination - Mr Klaus, an economist by profession, is a committed eurosceptic.

A passionate advocate of the free market, he recently described the current process of European integration as being about weakening democratic procedures and introducing massive protectionism.

A divisive and outspoken figure, he is also a politician with a popular touch.

He has never shrunk from confrontation - as prime minister from 1992-97 he clashed repeatedly with Mr Havel, a playwright and former dissident.

The historian Timothy Garton Ash, who has written extensively on the Czech Republic, describes Mr Klaus as one of the rudest men he has ever known.

Thatcherite reputation

Vaclav Klaus was born in Prague in 1941, and gained an economics degree in 1963.

He worked for the Czechoslovak central bank from 1971 to 1986, before joining a think-tank what was openly critical of the economic policies of the former communist regime.

He joined Mr Havel in backing the Velvet Revolution of 1989 before becoming finance minister in the first post-communist government, quickly gaining a reputation for Thatcherite policies.

As prime minister from 1992 to 1997, Mr Klaus is credited with successfully transforming the Czech economy.

However, he was forced to leave office after his party was implicated in a financial scandal.

Stark contrast

More recently, he has served as parliamentary speaker, resigning in June 2002 after his Civic Democratic Party was defeated in elections.

A keen sportsman and an immaculate dresser with a perfectly clipped moustache, he presented a stark contrast to the heavy smoking intellectual Mr Havel.

Their relationship was often difficult, and Mr Havel is said to have contributed to his rival's fall in 1997 with a highly critical speech.

When the Czech Republic and Slovakia separated in the Velvet Divorce of 1993, Mr Klaus made sure the new Czech constitution considerably reduced presidential powers - limitations he will now have to contend with himself.




SEE ALSO:
Vaclav Havel: End of an era
02 Feb 03 |  Europe
Timeline: Czech Republic
04 Feb 03 |  Country profiles


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